Israel pushes ahead with deadly airstrikes, as Gaza fires more rockets

Israeli leaders say operation is likely to continue and expand in the coming days, with a ground incursion a possibility

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Israel’s military incursion in the Gaza Strip showed no signs of abating on Wednesday, with a slew of fresh military strikes killing at least 22 people in an open-ended operation that is said to be in response to Palestinian rocket fire from the Hamas-controlled territory.

Since the airstrikes began Tuesday, the Israeli army says it has attacked more than 400 sites in Operation Protective Edge. At least 72 Palestinians have been killed, including several children, since the assault began, and 450 others have been injured in more than 550 Israeli strikes, Palestinian news website Maan reported.

During Israel’s operation, more than 225 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza, some reaching as far as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which caused several minor injuries.

The Israeli military confirmed that an anti-aircraft missile had been fired at an Israeli jet since the operation began, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Meanwhile, sirens rang out across Israel for a second day Wednesday, with some rockets intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, with others reportedly hitting Jerusalem, Beersheva, Ashdod and Ashkelon. No injuries have been reported on Wednesday. All gatherings of more than 300 people have been forbidden in Israel.

The Israeli military said that armed groups in Gaza have a M302 missile that has a range capable of striking most of Israel. On Wednesday, several rockets were intercepted over Tel Aviv, it added.

Israel’s military operation is likely to continue in the coming days, as its leadership aims to deal a major blow to Hamas.

"The operation against Hamas will expand in the coming days, and the price the organization will pay will be very high,” said Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon.

The Israeli army said its barrage of rocket fire on Wednesday included more than 160 sites, which it said included weapons storage facilities, Hamas compounds and smugglings tunnels and the homes of militants.

“We are killing terrorists of different ranks, and this operation will persist and intensify,” he said. “For our part, this doesn’t have to be a short battle. We will continue hitting Hamas and other terrorist groups hard.”

Hamas leader Khaled Meshal called on the international community Wednesday to convey to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Palestinians would not continue to live under Israeli occupation, Haaretz reported. 

He said the Israeli occupation, settlements and the Gaza blockade constituted a "blantant violation of Palestinian rights."

"Whoever wants calm in return for calm isn't going to get it," Meshal said during a news conference in Doha, Qatar.

Hamas, according to the Palestinian Maan news agency, said it would “extend the circle of its targets” in the form of rocket attacks unless Israel ceases its operation, agrees to the terms of a 2012 truce agreement and releases Hamas prisoners it detained in the West Bank last month — some of whom had been previously freed under a prisoner swap agreement.

The damage from Israel's operation extended well beyond Hamas sites.

One strike on Wednesday, on a home in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza Strip, killed 40-year-old Sahar Hamdan al-Masri and her 14-year-old son Ibrahim, according to Maan, which also reported that an earlier Wednesday strike had killed an infant, his mother and another man in a home in Gaza City.

An airstrike on a home in northern Gaza killed a top leader in Islamic Jihad, a competitor to Hamas in Gaza as well as a sworn enemy of Israel, as well as five members of his family, the Palestinian Interior Ministry said Wednesday.

Israel’s air force said it would continue striking targets in Gaza, including the homes of Hamas members, Haaretz reported Wednesday. An officer said that residents of buildings targeted by Israel have tried to prevent the strikes by gathering on the roofs — which the officer said would not guarantee preventing an attack.

“If the pilot has signaled (an impending strike), go outside, this house will be destroyed,” the officer said.

Arab Israeli parliamentarian Ahmed Tibi accused the Israeli military of war crimes in Gaza because of their targeting of homes and "purposely wiping out entire families," Haaretz reported.

Netanyahu said Wednesday that if there were any civilian casualties in Gaza, they should be blamed on Hamas, Haaretz reported. 

Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has asked Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to intervene in the recent violence,  adding that he had spoken to Hamas leaders who said they were interested in a ceasefire. An Egyptian envoy in the Palestinian Authority said talks between Israel and Palestine are taking place but no agreement has been reached.

While urging restraint on both sides, the United States has for all intents and purposes endorsed the Israeli military operation.

“We strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire inside of Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

"No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and we support Israel's right to defend itself against these vicious attack,” he said.

Meanwhile, Israel continued to hint at a possible ground invasion, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev saying Wednesday that they have a number of options.

“The government has instructed the military to deploy forces along the border with Gaza to be ready for any contingency,” Regev said.

The latest tensions began not long after Palestinian rival factions Hamas and Fatah agreed to form a unity government and days after three Israeli teenagers went missing in the West Bank and were later found dead. Israel blamed their abductions on Hamas, which the group has denied.

Israel subsequently launched a major crackdown on the group in the West Bank, arresting hundreds including the group’s top leadership there. At least six Palestinians were killed in resulting clashes. After the Israeli teenagers' bodies were found, a 16-year-old Palestinian teen was abducted and burned to death in Jerusalem. Six Israelis were later arrested and three have reportedly confessed to the crime.

Clashes then broke out in the West Bank after solidarity protests for Gaza, with 11 Palestinians injured after they marched to the Israeli settlement Beit Eil near Ramallah and set fire to an Israeli watchtower. Israeli soldiers shot live ammunition and rubber-coated steel bullets at the protesters, Maan reported.

With wire services

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